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The Caricature of Feminine Irrationality

By: Sheyenne White

For my project, I wish to challenge the false dichotomy between theory and practice. Given that academic theory is designed to be inaccessible through its abstract, dense, and jargonistic composition, I will mitigate its elitist exclusivity by applying it to the raw authenticity inherent of situated testimonies. For the sake of parsimony,  I have limited my interviews to three heterosexual, cisgender female UC Davis students.

  • Have you ever felt that you have carried the emotional weight during a relationship?

“Women are constantly being seen as fragile but when I don’t show any emotion, I’m seen as emotionless and less of a woman. In all of my romantic relationships, I’m always expected to be the motherfucker’s therapist, mother, maid, and caregiver. Anytime that something happens,  I can expect them to lash out and I have to walk them through their feelings. It’s on me. He wants me to fix it but I can’t always fix it.”

. . .

“Ooo my daddy issues. My dad didn’t go to therapy and he projects his unresolved trauma on my mother, sisters, and I. He has created a toxic cycle of transgenerational trauma. I may not be able to choose my trauma but I can choose how I react and respond to it. I understand this so why can’t he?”

. . .

“Men will very much ghost a girl if she gets too sensitive or attached but they’ll unload their trauma on any girl that they fuck. They’re not our boyfriends but we find ourselves acting like their mother or therapist. I don’t like it. As women, we learn to deal with this shit. We learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.”  

. . .

In her work, Alison Jagger reflects on the socially constructed dichotomy between emotionality and rationality. In her article, Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology, she disparages the Western derogatory attitiude towards emotion, and instead stresses its critical role in the construction of knowledge.
The emotionality of women is both a familiar cultural stereotype and an axiom of Western tradition. The ongoing and persisting subjugation of women can be traced back to the traditional tie between masculinity and reason within philosophy, in which rationality, morality, and emotionality are positioned as gendered pursuits. Masculine bias continues to be a pervasive thread that runs through Western thought and is maintained through hierarchical dualisms: like man-woman, masculinity-femininity, and rationality-emotionality. Such binary oppositions reinforce the gendered division that values the masculine and devalues the feminine. 

Although both men and women are held to norms of appropriate emotional expression, women’s perceived emotionality comes under greater scrutiny relative to their male counterparts. As interviewee one alluded to, women are expected to succumb to emotions and therefore, emotionally inexpressive women are deemed gender-deviant. As if, emotional expressivity alone constitutes womanhood. While the link between emotional expressivity and the lack of women in leadership roles is readily acknowledged, the extent of its overarching influence in banal and trivial encounters cannot be understated. Along these lines, heteropatriarchal accounts of emotion remain problematic insofar as they fail to explain the paradox between their caricatures of irrational, hormonal women and their need for emotional nurturance.

While some degree of codependency in any given relationship is to be expected, women take on the lion’s share of the emotional labor. As funny as it may be to refer to emotional labor as comparable to the work of a therapist, mother or maid, interviewee one’s experiences sheds light on the dangers of women’s warm, maternal, and communal roles within society. Under an androcentric patriarchy, “men’s emotional development is relatively rudimentary,” which in turn, leads to “moral rigidity and insensitivity” (Jagger, 10). It’s important to note that this phenomena is not incidental but a direct byproduct of toxic masculinity. Considering that male emotional expressivity has become a ill-equipped marker of homosexuality, the question arises, is it really homosexuality that is the fear or is it the loss of heteronormative masculinity? The concept of toxic masculinity can be interpreted as an embodiment of Western ideals: violence, aggression, status, and sex. When a society overemphasizes gender, it must grapple with the consequences. Unfortunately, those consequences manifest themselves in the form of destructive and unaccommodating gender stereotypes.

As interviewee two noted, men’s limited emotional development extends beyond the scope of romantic entanglements and seeps into family dynamics. Nothing quite sums up the way women are burdened with the responsibility of emotional labor quite like the notion of  ‘daddy issues.’ Despite its visage of frivolity, the expression is weaponized as a cruel joke against women, designed to humiliate and mock their mistreatment they suffered on behalf of their father. Interestingly, the expression is utilized in the same fashion when women experience the same mistreatment in their romantic relationships. As if, the issue resides within the woman, and not the emotionally stunted men. Thus, the concept behind ‘daddy issues’ is pernicious in its perpetuation of a victim-blaming culture that once again asks women to shoulder the emotional trauma of the men in their life in addition to their own. 

After conducting my interviews, I could not help but recall interviewee three’s sophisticated articulation that women “learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.” When we applaud men for merely unloading their emotional trauma, we encourage their complacency. After all, the emotional labor is not often reciprocated for the woman. The flawed association of masculinity with reason and femininity with feeling, fails to consider the intrinsic and instrumental value of emotion as well as its potential epistemic value. Women’s experience in emotional nurturance allows us to cultivate the adept ability to identify and recognize emotions. Upon examining the social construction of emotions under an androcentric, heteropatriarchal ideology, “all of our human faculties — rationality, morality, and emotionality — reflect an aspect of human knowledge inseparable from the other aspects” (Jagger, 15). Only by reconciling emotionality with our rationality and morality, may we create a nonhierarchical and antifoundationalist mode of knowledge production, that is both sustainable and durable. For now, women must take advantage of their epistemic advantage by working to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Works Cited:

Alison M. Jaggar (1989) Love and knowledge: Emotion in feminist epistemology, Inquiry, 32:2, 151-176

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American Complicity

By: Sheyenne White

With the eyes of the world on the U.S election, Israel’s military demolished most of a Bedouin village in the West Bank, displacing 73 Palestinians—including 41 children. Their vulnerability rendered by homelessness is further exacerbated by the onset of winter and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs excused their act of unforgiving brutality by citing a lack of building permits as their justification behind their biggest demolition of Palestinian homes in years.

Demolitions have served as a means of creating hostile environments designed to drive out Palestinians from their homes for decades. According to the United Nations, Israel has demolished more than 55,000 Palestinian homes, dwellings and other structures since 1967. Such an extensive history of Israeli abuses within Palestinian territories reveals the blanket of impunity Israel is afforded by the international community, particularly the United States. The amicable relationship between the United States and Israel predates Trump, exemplified by the provision of $142.3 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding since World War II, making Israel the largest cumulative recipient of U.S foreign assistance. Interestingly, almost all U.S aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance: transforming Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world and making the United States complicit in their afflictions of inhumanity.

Although American support behind Israel can be seen across the political spectrum, the Trump administration is an anomaly. Despite Trump’s infamous isolationist approach to foreign policy, his concessions towards Israel have made more of an impact than any of his predecessors. Early in his term, Trump recognized Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as their capital and moved the U.S embassy there: breaking the U.S precedent that the divided city be left to Israeli-Palestinaian negotiations and destroying the possibility of a two-state solution to decades of civil unrest and instability. Later, Trump went further by releasing a 181 page plan that afforded the Israel government the majority of its territorial demands, thereby cutting millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians and weakening their sovereignty. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called Trump “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.” Ultimately, Trump’s proposal emboldened Isralei ultrantionalists and positioned the Palestinian people as stateless people on their own land.

Given that Trump’s interests in the seven-decade conflict often appear opaque, Israel’s lobby influence in Washington demands further attention. Interestingly, the role of AIPAC in American politics is a highly contentious debate but their dark history of informal but substantial campaign contributions towards Presidential and Congressional candidates sheds light on the entanglement of money behind American-Israeli relations. In the 2018 mid-term elections alone, Pro-Israel lobbyists spent more than $22 million in campaign donations. By lobbying, pressuring and dangling donations in front of politicians, AIPAC has played a vital role in U.S foreign policy, particularly in the Isreali-Palestinain conflict. However, their monetary contributions not only incentivize public servants across the political spectrum to express pro-Israeli sentiment but they spin positive PR after Israeli atrocities. 

It must be noted that such criticism of AIPAC’s powerful influence is a hotly politicized dispute with both sides of the political aisle charging it antisemitic. Yet, the power of their financial contributions and political influence are under debate, not their faith. Therefore, criticisms of AIPAC reflect systematic concerns towards campaign finance and represent the severity of the dependence of the U.S system on money. Thus, only a political system less reliant on money for electoral success would be able to mitigate this capitalist disaster. A capitalist disaster that enables American politicians to profit from Isralei crimes against Palestinians. In light of Biden’s victory, we must fight for policies that advance Palestinian freedom.

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The Electoral College is a Ruthless Subversion of Democracy

By: Sheyenne White

After nearly four days of ballot counting, the United States has a new President-elect. On Nov. 7, the Associated Press called the state of Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, giving him 284 electoral votes, pushing him past the required 270 and into position to become the next U.S. President. About an hour later, the A.P. also called Nevada for Biden, giving him a total of 290 electoral votes. Yet the presidential race was agonizingly close as our anxious nation awaited.

The only certainty was that for the fourth presidential election in a row, and the seventh of the past eight—the Democratic party had secured the popular vote. Only once in the past 30 years have the American people given their support to a Republican: but three times, a Republican has been elected. Despite Biden’s victory, the disparity between the popular vote and the Electoral College has intensified anger for a system that misappropriates political power. The Electoral College awards electors to each state based on their total population; thus, the larger the state, the more electoral votes there are. There are a total of 538 electors and a candidate needs an absolute majority of electors, meaning 270 or more, to win the Electoral College.

The dysfunctionality of the Electoral College can be reduced to its unique winner-take-all approach: in which all Electoral College votes within states go to one candidate based on the state’s popular vote, rather than proportional representation. To clarify, proportional representation is a decision rule in which the share of seats won by each party is roughly equal to each party’s share of votes it received in the election: ensuring fair representation for both white and minority voters. Therefore, our country’s political unwillingness to adopt such an equitable voting framework suggests that the winner-take-all character came about because of partisan power and reinforces a rigid two-party system. Along these lines, it must be noted that because a state’s number of electors is based on their total population, not actual voters, states—operating under the powerful influence of political parties—have no incentive to enfranchise new groups of people or alleviate the difficulties of the voting process for those already eligible. Such blatant inequitable incentives expose the Electoral College as a potent force of voter suppression.

In light of the cries for racial justice that ring across the nation, the issue of race and the Electoral College demands further attention. Deconstructing the racist legacy of the Electoral College requires one to recognize that by giving all states equal representation in the Senate, the Constitution gives greater influence to rural states relative to their population. Wyoming, where 580,000 people live, gets two senators. But so does California, home to 39.5 million people. Now consider that 92% of Wyoming voters are white and 37% of California voters are white but a Wyoming voter has nearly four times more influence than a California voter. This unsettling disparity sheds light on the foundation of racism upon which anti-majoritarian institutions rest. Thus, the Electoral College and the Senate work together to subvert majority rule and give a minority of people the majority of power: threatening the sanctity of American democracy.

Nonetheless, supporters of the Electoral College argue that it protects less-populous states, ensuring that their interests aren’t overridden by states like New York and California with highly democratic concentrated urban cities. However, this argument is tired and banal to say the least. The resilience of the current system reflects the intent to protect and preserve the power of conservative states through anti-majoritarian institutions like the Electoral College and the U.S Senate. The 2020 election reveals the Electoral College’s part in upholding white supremacy by disadvantaging large subsets of the electorate—particularly Black and Latinx voters, whose votes are often overpowered by the will of electors.

With this in mind, the Electoral College is a racist relic and it is time to move ahead with abolishing this outdated system, as it not only distorts popular will but heightens public mistrust in American democracy. Yet abolishing it will be difficult given that the same power it grants to less-populous states is also imbued into the institutions required to get rid of it: the United States Constitution and Senate. Simply put, the requirement of a two-thirds majority within the Senate to amend the Constitutional framework behind the Electoral College would be an uphill battle. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that politicians belonging to smaller states—that reap the benefits from anti-majoritarian institutions—would willingly surrender such political power in the first place.

With this in mind, the Electoral College is reflective of our founding fathers’ fear of direct democracy. In order to rectify this unjust system, we must begin with changing electoral votes to electoral points, thereby rewarding each candidate a percentage of points based on the percentage of popular votes received in each state. Therefore, effectively eliminating the winner take-all system and allowing all votes to carry the same weight. Ultimately, the Electoral College is an assault on our democracy and justice will only prevail once power has been restored to the American people.

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Vulnerability as a Vice

By: Sheyenne White

It was a humid night filled with ambivalence that paved the path for a profoundly sudden and striking realization. It was particularly late and I couldn’t sleep so I turned to Netflix to comfort me. Needless to say, I approached my quest for some quick entertainment in a distracted and inattentive manner. In my deep dive into Netflix’s extensive collection of movies and tv shows, I stumbled upon a a self declared fat lesbian Australian comedian named Hannah Gadsby. My curiosity was piqued but the little teaser clip is what hooked me. The thirty second clip revealed her epiphany that “self deprecation is not humility but humiliation.” Her epiphany quickly became mine as it forced me to reflect on my own self destructive habits. To paint a picture, I was sitting on my bed dumbfounded as I came to the understanding that my at times overwhelming insecurities are tied to my struggles with vulnerability.

Vulnerability has long been associated with femininity, weakness, and dependency. Considering that I proudly identify as an intersectional feminist, I think this reductive negative view of vulnerability is bullshit. However, I have come to realize that my disdain for the current dualist nature of vulnerability—one that positions vulnerability in opposition to invulnerability—has allowed me to create a dangerous dichotomy between vulnerability and strength.  It is by my very own contempt for arbitrary gender associations that I fell into the trap of a “together woman” and demonized vulnerability in the process. A “together woman” is defined as one who presents themselves with poise, dignity, and most importantly competence. It must be noted that these traits cannot always be conveyed organically and one’s unwillingness to accept that allows one to construct a facade. The comfort behind the facade pushes one to concoct a mask, with the purpose of concealing internal uncertainties and apprehensions from the outside world in fear that such inner turmoil will be dismissed as mediocrity. The irony lies in the fact that this style of thinking directly aligns with gendered loopholes and reinforces the same gender stereotype I was grappling with in the first place.

Nonetheless, I believe this contradiction of mine is more universal than what I imagined. The struggle to find a place for vulnerability within contemporary feminist thought can be traced back to the patriarchal aggressive binary frame that dictates gender norms; a framework that equates vulnerability with a susceptibility to harm and instead promotes invulnerability. However, invulnerability fosters an unhealthy desire for control and security so as to mitigate unpredictable and threatening events. On the contrary, vulnerability forces one to unveil their insecurities and risk emotional exposure. Simply put, the fear of vulnerability is a reflection of one’s fears surrounding themselves. Until we own our truth and embrace our individuality, we will be stuck in a perpetual cycle of subconscious self-loathing. I am a person who thrives on projecting the illusion that I have it all together, and being vulnerable means revealing that I actually… don’t. The walls I have built to protect myself from the instability of life has curbed my ability to devote myself to authenticity and accept my humanity.

After all, humanity is inherently rendered vulnerable and therefore vulnerability paints the true contours of recognition for the individual. With this in mind, the pursuit of invulnerability is illogical to say the least and we must learn to embody vulnerability. Ultimately, only a more comprehensive, nuanced and nonreductive concept of vulnerability can combat obsolete gender associations. It may seem strange that this epiphany of mine came from a Netflix comedy special but I’ll forever be thankful for Hannah Gadsby’s reminder that the incompatibility between vulnerability and strength is nothing but a myth.

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Don’t Be A Bootlicker

By: Sheyenne White

On July 24, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that “Another stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people.” Not only is this tweet glaringly ignorant but it comes not long after the U.S exceeded four million Coronavirus cases. Although this tweet may appear innocuous, it’s anything but—as it blatantly disregards the millions of Americans suffering financially amidst the global pandemic. While millions of Americans face poverty, Musk’s wealth has grown $20 billion during the last four months alone (Forbes).

However, Elon Musk’s remarks hardly make him unique, considering he’s just one of the many billionaires that lobby, pressure and dangle donations in front of politicians in order to bring down taxes on the rich yet disparage federal welfare for the working and middle classes. Given the staggering 79% nosedive in billionaire taxes in the last four decades, it is questionable if plutocrats’ entirely predictable declarations on economic issues are even news at all (Institute For Policy Studies). Nonetheless, the jump in the sum total of U.S billionaire wealth from $240 billion in 1990 to nearly $3 trillion today demands further examination as it brings attention to the failure of American capitalism (Americans For Tax Fairness). Simply put, capitalism is dependent upon a foundation of economic subordination rooted in class inequality and social discrimination along the lines of gender, race, and citizenship status.

 The absence of institutional safety nets within American neoliberal financialized capitalism work to exacerbate such wealth disparities. In particular, many state unemployment systems are designed to make it difficult to apply for and receive aid through complicated eligibility requirements. It must be pointed out that every person a program fails to help is a reduction in the cost of that program for the state. Such needless complexity undermines the efficiency of social programs, incentivizes dysfunctionality, and offsets the cost of tax giveaways to the rich. With this in mind, we can no longer allow ourselves to be placated by empty promises of reform from establishment politicians and instead accept that the inadequate welfare infrastructure is intentional. Afterall, capitalism is an elitist political-economic system favored by both mainstream political parties.

A capitalist economy is driven by a free market in which both prices and production are dictated by corporations and private companies in competition with one another. The irony lies in the fact that capitalist innovations are publicly funded but the profits are privatized, making the exploitation of marginalized and vulnerable communities inevitable. Behind the widespread misconception that “immigrants steal American jobs,” is the sad truth that migrant labor is preferred because it coincides with neoliberal business strategies to lower costs and diminish union power. The lack of social mobility afforded by destructive capitalist forces is atrocious to say the least. With this in mind, no one can become a billionaire without exploiting other people’s underpaid or unpaid labor—making capitalism organized crime. 

It is important to note that anti-capitalism perspectives are often uncomfortable and unpleasant for Americans to consider given the capitalist propaganda we have been force fed. Afterall free-market capitalism fuels the notorious but elusive “American dream.” The idea that all Americans are provided the same opportunities for success and upward mobility given they work hard. However, in Corporate America workers are working longer hours for less pay and benefits while CEO salaries and corporate profits soar. Yet the exploitation of the working class has become normalized as many scramble to be in false class solidarity with billionaires in the desperate hopes that they too can accumulate billions. Although we’re told by the ruling and political elite that the American dream is incompatible with federal welfare for the working and middle classes, it’s the contrary. As the connotations of equality and equity behind the American dream clashes with the privatization of wealth.

As a class, billionaires exert an insidious influence on party politics and the economy as their “generous” contributions allow them to mold legislation in their favor. Considering their astute ability to protect their wealth from taxation, the burden of paying for public goods— be it healthcare, education, or housing—is increasingly shouldered by average taxpayers. It’s institutionalized theft. Upon reflection, the billionaire class is a moral abomination and must be abolished. Nonetheless, the hierarchical economic structure of capitalism remains the culprit and therefore we must first change the way our economy is organized. Capitalism derives wealth from a system of labor exploitation and concentrates wealth and power within privileged subsets of the population. The obscene hoarding of wealth in the hands of a few imperils the sanctity of our democracy as we know it. Ultimately, justice will only prevail once the laboring class reclaims the means of production.